Somewhere in New Mexico, 2010

Ohio. The electrified humidity is finally evaporating, the sun goes down at 8:36pm, and there’s a full moon tonight. Last month I sent a newsletter about the elegant decay of Hubert Robert, and last week I wrote about my summer of Muslimgauze. Tonight I’m contemplating this apocalyptic quote from the photographer Robert Adams: “After people live awhile in a place to which they’ve laid waste, it gets easy to hate a great many things.”

I sneeze whenever I glance at the sun, which I’ve always taken as proof I am a night owl. It’s called a photic sneeze reflex, and it’s a fascinating little ailment. In 350 BCE, Aristotle considered this condition in his wonderfully titled Book of Problems and concluded the sun’s heat makes the nose sweat. In the 17th century, Francis Bacon noticed he did not sneeze if he faced the sun with his eyes closed, so it must have something to do with the eye rather than the nose. I like to think two thousand years passed before someone else pondered this issue.

Finished reading Michel Faber’s Under the Skin and rewatched the movie, which was a good example of the memory burning brighter than the thing itself. Now I’m grazing between three or four novels, waiting for my attention to settle. Meanwhile, I’m inching along with edits and revisions to my own story, and I’m determined to send this thing to somebody before the summer ends. And somewhere behind me, a boy nags his father, telling him he wants to learn to fight. “Son, I’m only going to teach you to block. You don’t ever need to punch.”

Ø – Hyönteis

Tulkinta | Sähkö Recordings, 1997 | More
Somewhere in the Middle West

Maps of the Arctic give me vertigo. All that blank bright land feels like leaping off a rooftop. And it’s peppered with bland names that sound like death: Baffin Bay, Kettle Passage, Resolute Island. There were forty-two failed expeditions to find the Northwest Passage. Sailors’ teeth exploded in the cold as they searched for the Open Polar Sea, an imaginary body of water that haunted nautical maps for centuries. Some sailors died with these maps in their hands after cannibalizing their shipmates. But today, this sea is becoming a reality in these record-breaking days of fire and flood. Sooner or later, the map creates the world.

The rusty squawk of seagulls interrupts my jabbering brain. Dozens of them circle above this superstore parking lot, hunting for minnows, plankton, or whatever they eat. Something in nature is breaking. Overhead, a star-spangled billboard advertises the Eighteenth Annual Quad County Bible Study & Gun Show. A verse from the Gospel of Luke blinks in red, white, and blue: When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.

Maybe they had the right idea with the Northwest Passage, hoping to skip America altogether.

The Sight Below – The Sunset Passage (Biosphere Remix)

Glider 10: Reworks | Ghostly International, 2018 | Bandcamp

This is the ninth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in Arizona, 2010

Headlines at the top of the hour: Another heat dome has settled across the nation, and the new movie that reenacts ten celebrity drunk-driving offenses broke a box-office record over the weekend. 

Cut to commercial, and I hum along with a jingle for a machine that controls your brainwaves while you sleep: Wake up energized and get more done! Now a story about the latest self-help manual from a celebrity chef who is a recovering pyromaniac: “And I discovered this is the way with all things, a gentle breath can keep the tiniest flame alive—”

I scroll down the dial in search of the midnight call-in shows, those carrier waves of national rumor and patchwork theory. A woman in San Diego says the CIA is responsible for the body parts washing up on the Pacific coastline. “Chopped-off feet are coming in with the tide, and nobody knows why.” 

Callers assign divine significance to the calendar and the moon, offering theories rooted in numerology and biblical verse; they implicate Hollywood and the United Nations. “The government is controlling the weather so they can push through an eco-terrorist agenda. There are secret machines at the foot of the Rocky Mountains that manufacture terrible winds.”

A man in New Hampshire talks about an alien transmission that left behind three disemboweled bodies in Arkansas: “Humans don’t have the technology to suck out a person’s intestines through their naval, but that’s exactly what happened.” 

Cut to commercial. “At the California Institute of Psychics, only two of every three hundred applicants are selected, so you’re guaranteed a good reading.” 

I tune into another voice, this one sweaty and frightened. “I’m alone in Idaho where it’s just me and God, and it gets so lonely. Because I’m just a normal guy, and there are times when I get tired of being His servant and I say, ‘God, how much longer do you want me to do this, to keep warning people about your judgment?’ And the Lord tells me I have until the end of winter to prepare everyone for—”

Station after station of this: doomsayers and faith-dealers tormented by the ghosts in their heads. What has gone so horribly wrong in their lives that they’re on the radio, telling us we’re all going to burn?

I mute the radio. I’ll get more information from the rain.

Damien Jurado & Richard Swift – Radioactivity

Other People’s Songs | Secretly Canadian, 2013 | Bandcamp

This is the eighth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in Wyoming, 2007

The Rockies appeared through the gloom, slow beasts moving across the continent at the speed of time, oblivious to the tiny metal creatures carving up their sides. Headlights and taillights shimmered, their drivers hopped up on coffee and talk radio, heads on fire with hope and regret as they rehearsed thousands of monologues nobody would ever hear. What was the reason for all this consciousness? If we’re only here to replicate our genetic code and serve the demands of some blind Darwinian logic, why carry around heads filled with so much noise? Perhaps this is why every religion riffs on the renunciation of self. The bondage of ego. The pain of identity. It is by self-forgetting that one finds. And that’s all we crave in the end, isn’t it? Self-forgetting. To get out of our heads and see the mountain. My eyes flicked up to the sky, half-expecting to see God’s face beaming at my insight, even though I did not yet believe in such things.

Temple Ov Saturn – When the Human Heart Becomes Fire

Bride of the Sun | 2018 | Bandcamp

This is the seventh episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in New Orleans, 2010

It was a run-down joint where time stood still and probably slid backward. Wood-paneled walls. Cracked leather studded with brass. Deep booths that were once red, now the color of a bruise. It was the kind of place where you might have sealed a business deal in a different decade, but now it was where you came when you had no more business to conduct. Paper lanterns and a plastic palm tree. Tangled Christmas lights on the ceiling and a Rock-Ola jukebox that sang listen to the rhythm of the falling rain. A flatscreen above the bar showed a celebrity laughing in a prison yard, and I could not tell if it was a movie or a news report.

A woman mumbled into her drink. “Everything’s a mystery and I’m just a tiny part of it. Maybe that’s all I need to know.” The wall of liquor shimmered like stained glass. The Christmas lights flickered and the TV glitched. Another brownout.

The Cascades – Rhythm of the Rain

Valiant Records, 1962 | More

This is the sixth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in Nevada, 2007

I visited airplane graveyards and meditated in the shadows of retired war machines, their shark-tooth paint jobs fading in the sun. The desert’s silence was hell on my tinnitus. All this space and light, yet I remained trapped in my awful head, my thoughts held hostage to an endless dial tone. So long as I had the grey noise of highway traffic or a ventilation unit, I could live with the ringing. But out here, the silence carried weight, a morbid pressure against the skin.

At a gas station in Barstow, a man in a tight leather jacket warned me about the desert. “Don’t listen to anyone who dares you to walk,” he said, sending his cigarette skittering across the parking lot where it sparked against a pick-up truck. He clamped my shoulder and shook me a little, his fingernails digging into bone. “I’m serious, brother. People get into trouble like you wouldn’t believe. They’ll challenge each other to walk ten miles into Death Valley without supplies and then walk ten miles back. They wager money on it.” 

I tell him I’ve never heard of such a thing, and he stares beyond me, watching the traffic. “Yeah, you can make some nice money on a bet like that,” he said. “But I lost a few good friends that way.” I watched the tension in his jaw, the cords pulsing in his neck. Only God knew what he was remembering. I turned to go. “Don’t forget,” he called, “if you’re out there and you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated!”

Demdike Stare – Desert Ascetic

Voices of Dust | Modern Love, 2010 | Boomkat

This is the fifth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in Nevada, 2021

Most people walk away from their dreams sooner or later, usually in tiny steps that are hardly noticeable, the course altered by fractional degrees until it leads to a reversal of the poles. The childhood fantasy of becoming an astronaut or paleontologist fades into paying down a credit card or finding low-deductible insurance. Big dreams die every minute in this country, crushed into the smaller ones that keep us setting our alarm clocks, buying paper towels, and checking the weather forecast. 

Lose enough faith, and you might forget how to live. Bills and bank statements begin to look like fiction, baffling abstractions that have nothing to do with the real business of being alive. Words like appointment or Thursday lose their meaning, and you increasingly find yourself spaced-out in the grocery store, struggling to remember what you like to eat. You might begin to spend time in bars or churches, searching for instructions. Some people will recognize this starved look in your eye. They will see you as a kindred spirit or easy prey. Either way, they will find you. And they will talk to you.

Spectrum – Then I Just Drifted Away

Highs, Lows, and Heavenly Blows | Silvertone, 1994 | More

This is the fourth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in the Mojave Desert, 2008

Some Americans like to tie a pair of shoes together and toss them at a power line or a tree branch until they catch and hang. Very few people have seen these shoes actually thrown, and of the witnesses who have been surveyed, their reports vary as to the average number of attempts before the shoes find their mark, ranging from three to nineteen. This practice is more frequent in urban areas, although this might simply be a function of population density rather than any fundamental difference between the psyche of the city and the country. The style of shoes and their arrangement, however, is worth noting. Lone sneakers are common in the city, but when dangling shoes appear in rural areas, the formations tend to be more elaborate. In some parts of the Mojave desert, dusty shoes cover dead Joshua trees like leaves. Hundreds of black army boots hang from irrigation pipes over neglected crops in Oklahoma.

Some say a pair of tennis shoes draped over a telephone line indicates a place to score drugs. Often referred to as cosmic kicks or crack tennies, they serve as a storefront shingle for the local dealer. Others will tell you they mark a shooting gallery where heroin is used, a reminder that you’ll never walk away once you get hooked. These theories, however, do not explain the shoes strung over desolate roads or beneath the highway overpasses where nobody goes.

Many of these shoes once belonged to children. Seeing a child’s shoes hanging in a bottle-strewn alley bothers the soul, calling to mind Hemingway’s famous six-word story: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. Some say these abandoned shoes memorialize a gangland killing. Others believe they mark the sighting of a ghost. But most levelheaded folks chalk them up to run-of-the-mill bullying in which some asshole kid steals another kid’s shoes and tosses them beyond his reach.

If any of these theories are true, there are an awful lot of victims, ghosts, and bullies in the USA.

Clams Casino – Cold Feet

Instrumental Mixtape #3 | 2013 | Archive.org

This is the third episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

A ceiling in Ohio

When she was a little girl, she would watch the darkness in her bedroom, hypnotized by the grey-pink flecks that seemed to dance in the air while she waited for sleep. One night she climbed out of bed to tell her parents that she saw fairies in the corner of her ceiling. Her mother dismissed her, saying it was only a trick of the eyes, but a faint smile played across her father’s mouth as he tucked her back into bed. “We’ll talk later,” he whispered as he shut the door. They never did. 

She eventually learned those shimmery dots were the natural interplay of retinal fluid and optical cones. But part of her still preferred to believe they were dancing pieces of darkness, the living material of the night. “Science shouldn’t explain everything,” she told me. She often succumbed to earaches and ennui, and she would watch the sparkles in the gloom, the rods and motes that flickered just beyond her vision. “Sometimes I thought God lived in the shadows of the ceiling,” she said, and she would gaze at the high corners of the room whenever she felt overwhelmed, half-expecting to find an answer there. “Some habits come strange and never leave.”

And some habits are infectious. Years later, I would find myself murmuring to the fluorescent lights at the Gas ’n Go or the drop ceilings of the church basements where people insisted on living a day at a time. Like her, I would search for answers in forgotten spaces with cobwebs and patchy paint jobs.

Carl Hultgren – Evening (At Night)

Tomorrow | Blue Flea, 2104 | Bandcamp

This is the second episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Somewhere in Kansas, 2009

Maybe you’ve heard the stories, the baroque theories on late-night radio or the soliloquies of sunburnt men who mutter at the traffic. Like the one about how they trained telekinetic children to interrogate terrorists and accidentally discovered how to bend time with a pack of playing cards. Or how they dosed soldiers with LSD and dropped them in a forest to see how they would perform in combat. (Not very well.) Or the one about the college student who volunteered for a behavioral study. After feeding the kid a mescaline cocktail, they watched him pace a padded room for three days before he sat down and announced that he was a glass of orange juice, and if anyone came too close, he would tip over and spill himself all over the floor. They say that kid is an old man now, still sitting motionless in the corner of an institution in Virginia.

They’ve invented sights and sounds that will ruin your personality and cause you to soil yourself in the middle of the street. Aural destabilization, they call it. Its milder variants are used for dispersing street protests, but its more extreme applications belong to the land of rumor, those two o’clock in the morning stories told by creatures teetering on barstools who say they’ve heard a sound so loud it heats the air, dredging up your ugliest memories and rupturing your intestines if you stick around long enough. 

These stories always boil down to the spectral they, don’t they? The black choppers and nameless spooks, the shadows that haunt the minds of wild-eyed loners with custom-built radios, their speech riddled with dates and acronyms. 

This is the type of man I would become for a while.

Vatican Shadow – Jet Fumes Over the Reflecting Pool

Remember Your Black Day | Hospital Productions, 2013 | Bandcamp

This is the first episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.

Midnight at the superstore

Ohio. The longest day of the year, and, thank god, soon we’ll be making more night. The weather has been vivid lately. A heat dome has settled over the Middle West, the moon was extra bright last night, and I saw a rainbow in the parking lot yesterday.

A headline in The New York Times says “America is Heading Off a Cliff,” which is pretty evergreen. Last week a computer programmer claimed a chatbot achieved consciousness. Either Google is abusing sentient chatbots, or one of their chatbots drove a man insane. I’m not sure which scenario is more frightening. This morning I flipped on the local news, and they were interviewing “the first non-celebrity family” to ride a new waterslide. All of this feels like weather, too.

Tonight I’m trying to figure out what to do with this journal. I don’t want to write about current events or, god forbid, issues. There are far too many faith dealers, soothsayers, and thought leaders. The last thing this world needs is another opinion. Certainly not mine. On the other hand, writing about my life feels increasingly recursive, more and more like a dead end. Probably because I’m doing my best to live a boring life of routine.

I’m increasingly interested in digging deeper into fiction, particularly as the 21st century grows more science-fictional by the minute. I’d like to rewire this station into a space for experiments and exercises, for writing weirder and trying on points of view I don’t necessarily believe. So this journal will become a halfway house for homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled snippets from the past, and a few bloopers from the novel I’m writing. I’m going to call this series Interstate Scenes, and if I reach a decent number, maybe I’ll shape them into a little book. Hopefully this feed will get a little strange. But I promise, I’m okay.

Pye Corner Audio – Electronic Rhythm Number Eighteen (Retransferred by The Advisory Circle)

Black Mill Tapes Vol. 3 | Further Records, 2012 | Bandcamp

A soundtrack for some beautiful night driving.

Heatwave in Ohio

Ohio. Mostly sunny, the heat is building, and there’s a strawberry supermoon. Wall Street fell into a bear market today, and last year’s attempted coup is being relitigated on television in the hope that justice might still exist in some corner of the universe. I admire their faith. The television followed this up with a special report about dogs overdosing on their owners’ drugs. Later, a senator solemnly said, “We just want to keep guns out of the hands of people who might use them for violence.” The weather lady looked a little freaked out as she stood before a map soaked in neon red while forecasting a heat index of 110 degrees and 80-mile-per-hour winds.

A few months ago in London, I had a beautiful bowl of ramen so spicy I got the sniffles and glimpsed the face of god. I went back every Saturday like church. Now I’ve found something similar here in Ohio: a Szechuan lamb dish soaked in chili oil and cumin that can only be described as holy. It’s good to have a meal in your life that demands regular pilgrimage.

Hypothetical art project: a device that gives you fifty dollars each time you share an embarrassing personal detail—but there’s a one-in-fifty chance it will share a picture of you and your secrets online.

Sometimes we go to IKEA just for a nice and affordable meatball dinner.

Massive Attack vs Mad Professor – Heat Miser (Backward Sucking)

No Protection | Wild Bunch Records, 1995 | More